The past year has put a spotlight on thoughtful innovation and those who practice it in a variety of fields: from healthcare to education, all the way into technology and consumer goods. While many companies, brands and manufacturers have had to cut back or put innovation on the back burner there are others who, with an eye toward the greater good, have been approaching innovation as a tool to make our current world a cleaner, healthier, happier place for us all. Perhaps surprisingly, this time has been rich with creativity on many fronts; for some, the presence of an obstacle presents an opportunity to make bold, positive transformations to our communities and ourselves. As producer and philanthropist Mick Ebeling — one of AdAge’s 50 Most Creative People — once said: “Every innovation that exists today was once considered impossible…It’s a matter of taking that first step.”
Necessity is the mother of invention; as insights professionals we know that market research is often the first step toward defining the best path forward, even when consumers find it hard to articulate their needs. Yet, in a world of change, making the best choice for clients often goes beyond the unarticulated needs of the individual consumer. It requires a broader understanding of what is necessary for the greater good. We all already hold the tools in our professional toolbox that can help refine product or service improvements that both extend beyond the needs of the individual and serve a greater good for the world. Let’s look at some different ways that we, as researchers, can approach various stages of the research process to foster innovation for the greater good.
Concept Creation Approaches for the Greater Good
An important part of many research processes is the stage of concept creation, which sets the path for the product, technology or service that will eventually directly serve the consumer. Concepting for the greater good starts with identifying the consumer behavior change necessary for the greater good and works backward to the ideal solution. For example, if a brand is already the market leader in their space, the brand may not want to create concepts that completely disrupt loyal consumers, but rather ones that nudge those consumers along to continue supporting the brand through new or updated products or services that serve the greater good. On the other hand, new-to-market brands must disrupt existing consumer behaviors to supplant the market leader by promising and delivering innovative benefits. Heeding the call of the greater good; one value-adding solution could be to focus these benefits in a way that helps consumers cope in a world of change. This approach dramatically shifts the focus of concept creation from individual functional needs to higher order Maslov states of social consciousness and emotional wellbeing. By thinking first about consumer behavior and working backwards, the conceptual front end of innovation is free to go beyond making consumers healthier—it also provides the opportunity to help people feel happier about clean and sustainable choices, and make a lasting impact in the marketplace and on the world.
Delving into the Nonconscious to Build Better Products
Starting with consumer behavior, and then getting the concept ‘right,’ is just the beginning. Successful innovation for the greater good requires delivering on the identified promise — and, in doing so, surprising and delighting consumers beyond their expectations. For example, most product impressions are made through consumers’ nonconscious mental processes called implicit (or fast) thinking. These impressions result in an approach or avoid emotional reaction that motivates choice. When nudging a consumer to change behavior, a product designed for the greater good must look, feel, sound and taste like their current habitually used products. When disrupting consumer behavior, new higher order benefits must be easily associated with built-in product or brand qualities that signal those respective benefits. One way to illustrate this would be: products positioned as ‘natural’ will be more implicitly accepted when they are irregular in shape and have blemishes, than products signaling ‘highly manufactured.’
Expanding Your Insights Toolbox
Building products for the nonconscious mind requires insights gleaned through behavioral research techniques; prior to concept creation, for example, you might consider applying a behavioral framework to guide your research. At InsightsNow, we like to use one called The Habit Flywheel™ to develop the product strategy around how to nudge or disrupt consumer habits. Another behavioral research technique that can help is the Implicit/Explicit Test™. This test helps researchers understand what words and imagery to use in concept creation to position a product and to make claims that will disrupt or nudge. Food and beverage brands, for example, can use this technique to help uncover what ingredients to include in an ingredient statement that signal that a product is clean, safe and healthy. You can read more about how it works in our recent white paper, Applying Neuromarketing: The Implicit/Explicit Test.
This expansion of the research toolbox both broadens and organizes insights into the behaviors and reactions of consumers to products and messages. It helps marketers, product developers and innovators make better decisions—decisions that can be based on what would serve the greater good based on consumer insights. In looking deeply at subconscious behaviors, we as researchers can begin to identify outcomes that could nudge current behaviors and habits toward a cleaner, healthier and happier outcome.
Whatever research approach you choose to use, at whatever stage of the market research process, you too can structure your study in a way that prioritizes a cleaner, healthier, happier world. There are tools and methodologies, like behavioral frameworks and implicit testing, that seek to support these important endeavours and the innovators who embark on them. But having a human-focused approach, with an eye toward improving the lives of others and the world around is just as important. As congresswoman and Silicon Valley representative Anna Eshoo once said: “innovation is the calling card of the future.” As researchers, we have the opportunity—and the imperative—to ensure that the future in question is a brighter one.